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On Building a Backbone and Not Backing Down Ever, EVER Again

She folded in on herself in an instant, her legs tucking neatly under her body as her shoulders slumped. Her eyes shining bright with huge unshed tears, my beautiful friend Kate was crestfallen, her Princeton-educated brain fixated on the text that had just popped up on her cracked iPhone screen.

“SORRY, SOMETHING’S COME UP. I’LL CALL YOU LATER.”

Best friends since 10th grade, I couldn’t stop myself from interjecting. “Don’t you ever take another call from him,” I hissed, my eyes drifting of their own accord over to her grandmother’s lasagna baking in the oven. “It’s not his fault,” she said, like always. “He wanted to come but he’s so busy. There’s only so many hours in a day, y’know?” Kate was stunning, impossibly witty, a master of sports trivia…and reeeeeaaaally good at explaining away the bad behavior of every man she’d ever dated.

This wasn’t the first time she cut her boyfriend undeserved slack. Not with him. Not with any of them.

Inevitably, the relationship would go down in flames, and she’d meet someone new who’d dash in and sweep her swiftly off her manicured feet. But somewhere along the line in all her relationships, Kate would stop being Kate. Her insecurities would bubble to the surface, anxiety leaking out of every pore. And she’d morph into whoever it was she thought they wanted her to be.

Despite having a continuous slew of boyfriends, she always faced her boring holiday work parties alone. She made the rare (and terrifying) trips to the hospital without any support by her side. And she was never confident enough to introduce her friends into her romantic relationships because the fear of ruffling feathers or making demands loomed large (and in charge). What she didn’t understand was that by not being true to herself, by not drawing a line in the sand, and by not asking for what she deserved, she was inviting pain and heartache straight into her core.

But how could she ask for what she needed when she didn’t know what she needed? How could she set boundaries when she didn’t know who she was? And how the heck was she supposed to stand up for herself when she didn’t know what she valued?

The answer is that she couldn’t. So instead, she spent her life chasing everyone else’s definition of love, happiness, and success. Her life became an inauthentic compensation for not having a clue about who she was, morphing into who her parents, friends, boyfriends, and bosses wanted her to be.

SHE WAS HER OWN WORST NIGHTMARE.

But the thing about identifying your values and what’s important to you, and then asking for it, is that it’s going to stir the pot — and possibly cause it to boil over. That said, it all comes down to this quote, one of my favorites, by Winston Churchill:

“YOU HAVE ENEMIES? GOOD. THAT MEANS YOU’VE STOOD UP FOR SOMETHING, SOMETIME IN YOUR LIFE!”

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not encouraging you to run naked down the road, setting fire to mailboxes while screaming like a banshee. There’s no need to be mean, cruel, or an angry spectacle challenging people at parties, just like there’s no need to tell teachers how to teach or frankly to belittle anyone.

I’m simply talking about being comfortable in your own skin. Being able to disagree when passion bubbles up in your belly. Being able to speak up when someone isn’t being respectful of you and your time. And being able to pinpoint your values.

OUR VALUES, AFTER ALL, FORM OUR OPINIONS, ATTITUDES AND OUR BACKBONES.

At the end of each (and every) day, it’s okay to be unpopular. Taking a stand, having a voice, and being bold attracts your people, instead of the gray, faceless folks who nod along with the norm. You become a magnet for people with similar interests, passions, and gin preferences.

Sounds great, right? Here are 3 ways to get the backbone bus on the road:

Take time to figure out YOUR values. If you’re clueless about what YOU value most (not your parents, friends or significant other), you’ll end up living in a world built on everyone else’s values—which is a surefire path to unhappiness and self-loathing.

Stand up for yourself. If you aren’t in your corner, how can you expect anyone else to be, either? Obviously, it’s okay to be the only one, but I pinky promise you’ll be surprised by how many people rally beside you when you make your voice known.

Be willing to walk away. More often than not, we’re afraid to walk, skip, or jump away—from relationships, friendships, and jobs—because of the great unknown. But if what you’re facing now isn’t revving your engine or feeding your soul, it’s okay to stride confidently in the opposite direction.

Look. We all fall into The Kate Trap from time to time. That wishy-washy place that’s filled to the brim with fear and self-doubt. It can shake us up, shove us down, and urge us to be plain, bland, and boring. Yet the fact of the matter is that not everyone will like youand that’s okay. Rather than playing chameleon, morphing into wisps of personalities past, and hiding your opinions in the dark corners of your mind, embrace who you are. Embrace it, and cuddle it, and give it one hell of a hug. And then promptly crawl onto the nearest roof and shout your identity from the highest heights.

BECAUSE THE THING ABOUT HAVING A BACKBONE? IS THAT IT MAKES YOU MORE INTERESTING, RESPECTED, AND HAPPY—EVEN WITHOUT A HEFTY DOSE OF GIN.


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